By Adam Aniba
Washington has now clawed their way back into the playoff discussion and if the season ended today, Washington would get one of the last wildcard spots. Washington is the only NFC team to go undefeated in November. Sitting at 5-6, the season now looks dramatically different than it did prior to their bye week. Although Ron Rivera's offense ranks 22nd in scoring (229 pts), over the last 3 weeks they've controlled the time of possession in the 2nd half. Washington's long and methodical drives haven't always led to points in the red zone, but Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic have dominated the line of scrimmage in crunch time.
Gibson touched the ball a career best 36 times vs Seattle in the run and receiving game, finishing with 111 yds on 29 rush att (long run of 17) in addition to 7 rec for 35 yds. In fact, during their 3-game win streak Gibson has registered 320 all purpose yards with 2 tds.
Although Gibson dealt with ball security issues with untimely fumbles this season, it's clearly something he's been working on with the Washington coaches. He recently mentioned the transition from college receiver, to pro running back and the steep learning curve he's dealing with. Holding the ball high & tight is a new process he's getting used to and the key will be not to revert back to old habits.
Gibson continues to learn the nuances of the position, such as anticipating blocks, keeping his pad level low and just attacking the hole, rather than looking to bounce it outside.
Running Backs' Coach Randy Jordan, who has worked intensely with Gibson on his full-time transition to RB spoke highly about Gibson after the Seattle game.
“Well, I’ll tell you this: it’s like night and day from the first time that he started to play the running back position full-time. He still has a lot of tools. He’s doing a really great job for us so far, and I’m just looking for him to continue to stack practices and continue to perfect his craft.”
Washington's other running back, J.D. McKissic continues to add a spark in the run and receiving game without getting much national attention. In fact, McKissic has quietly become one of the top receiving backs in the league over the last 2 seasons with 123 total receptions.
The former Ark State WR had himself a night vs SEA accounting for one receiving & a rushing TD. Although Washington fans received a scare late in the 4th qtr when McKissic was carted off the field, he was seen walking around the locker room post game.
The improvement in the run game and overall production has been undeniable over the last 3 weeks. The resilience of Washington's O-line has played a big part during the win streak. After starting, center, Chase Roullier went down with a host of other starters and backups, Washington found itself turning to 4th string center, Keith Ismael vs Seattle.
OL Coach John Matsko and his ability to adjust, while constantly shuffling around personnel has been impressive. When Washington has been able to run the ball, Heinicke has been at his best. Effectively utilizing RPO and other option sets in the run game has kept teams on their toes.
Time of Possession Dominance
Over the last 3 weeks, Washington has dominated the time of possession and it hasn't been close.
vs TB 29-19 18:16 time of poss adv
vs CAR 27-2111:46 time of poss adv
vs SEA 17-15 23:20 time of poss adv which is biggest time differential for WAS (41:40) since 1990 vs DET had the ball for 49:52 min
Setting the Tone
Washington faces the Las Vegas Raiders this Sunday, before they embark on a 5-game stretch vs NFC East teams. Heinicke and play-calling as a whole, have improved throughout the season. As good as the offensive line has been in pass pro, continuing to set the tone on the ground should be a focus for Scott Turner. The tendency to go away from the run game at the wrong time has been an issue. Utilizing more RPO not only plays to Heinicke and the o-line's strengths, but it also keeps defenses' on their toes with so many scenarios to account for.
Rivera recently commented that he was happy with the production in the run game over the last 3 games, but is eager to see rookie Jaret Patterson get more involved. Turner has lined up receivers Curtis Samuel, DeAndre Carter and others in the backfield as well, in an effort to create different looks. Regardless of how they run the ball or who lines up in the backfield, this offense is finding a groove that could turn into an identity for the team going forward.